Has Israel Changed Judaism?



Judaism is an alter kocker. It doesn't change. It only gets more wrinkles. Rather than changing Judaism, Israel has actually validated it. It has testified to the truth of our story and to the tenacity of our hope. We never forgot Israel, never stopped singing about her, never stopped longing for her. And then, one day, some 70 years ago, when we needed her most, she showed up and took us home. In the more eloquent words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: "She occupied our hearts, filled our prayers, pervaded our dreams. Continually mourning her loss, our grief was not subdued when celebrating festivities, when arranging a dinner table, when painting our homes... The two most solemn occasions of the year, the Seder on Passover, and the Day of Atonement, found their climax in the proclamation: 'Next year in Jerusalem.'... When a Jew arrived in the land, he bent and kissed the dust. When he saw the ruins he tore his garment. When placed in his grave, a handful of earth taken from the soil of the Holy Land was placed under his head." (Israel: An Echo of Eternity, pp. 26-27).

Rabbi Gershon Winkler

Walking Stick Foundation

Cedar Glen, CA


Except for adding a new holiday to the calendar, the effect of Israel on Judaism as a set of religious practices for most Jews is negligible. But the effect on Jewish identity and the Jewish people has been enormous.

In the early years of Israel's founding, Israel's survival, twinned with Holocaust remembrance, became our collective raison d'etre and the watchword of our philanthropic campaigns. When attacked, we circled the wagons, raised even more money and felt even more gushing pride at Israel's swift military victories: "Am Yis-rael Chai!" I still have an unredeemed Israel bond in a drawer.

But these simple slogans have not met the test of time. In fact, they have tarnished greatly. Seventy years after Israel's beginning, most of us in America are not Israel-centric. We do not think of ourselves as living in the diaspora or infuse our identity with "all things Israel."

Furthermore, we are no longer euphoric about Israel's military posture and politics. To the contrary, many of us stand highly critical of many Israeli policies. We grieve for these changes and for the direction we see the country moving. Sadly, these changes alienate us and weaken our ties.

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism New York, NY


A Palestinian man from the organization Combatants for Peace recendy told me a story. Jailed at age 14 during the first intifada for hanging a flag, he was put in solitary. He couldn't fall asleep, not even by crying--until he overheard a soldier whose singing finally lulled him to sleep. He told...

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